Thursday, December 9, 2010

Quad + Cuvee de Tetreault: Cabernet Sauv grapes in to the mix

A bit earlier this fall, 5 Gallons of frozen grapes arrived from Midwest supplies, just as the Fall2010 winemaking season was in full swing. I was looking for an interesting fruit addition to give some depth to some of my bigger/darker sours, and I found a really cool option with inspiring commercial precedents (such as this and to a lesser degree, this.)

I pulled the trigger, not on freshly harvested grapes or even current season frozen must. I went with the surprisingly still available (as of Dec 2010) $50 deal on 2007 Cabernet grapes from Napa (picked and crushed on my birthday!). These high brix, huge flavor and tannin grapes from the worldclass americal viticultural area were intended for dark sours already slowly churning away. I would normally eschew pre-processed and the downright old for a fresh/recently harvested version, but, given the consideration of cost (at $200+ for fresh equivalent), I wasn't overly concerned about an erosion of quality given the high sugar content (~23.3Brix) and I'm sure they were stably frozen from harvest to delivery.

Popping the lid showed me no overt signs of freezer burn, even though there was a little more headspace in the bucket than I expected. There was a rubber gasket seal and some tear away plastic that ensured this bucket wouldn't leak, but we all know the oxygen permeability of HDPE. But still...5 gallons of whole frozen napa cab grapes for ~$75? A no-brainer. Jump on it, if you haven't yet and its still available. I'd love to compare notes down the road.
Despite my endorsement, I did feel a twinge of guilt (that continues to nag at me) at the extravagance of the cross country shipping, and ridiculous amounts of styrofoam that was needed to keep them frozen.
I'll prefer in the future to focus on and mostly stick to the best of what the new england regional AVAs have to offer, as there's plenty of the more local and equally high quality options to explore. No, this is not laughable. While the long, warm and dry seasons in the west coast valleys drives the best out of the deep and dark reds, the moderation of the Atlantic coastal climes seems to make the much hardier rootstock of the whites (and earthy Cabernet Franc) truly sing. I'll go so far to say that some of the best methode champenoise sparkling wines I've ever had, come from a sleeper winery in Westport, Massachusetts (snap up all of the Maximilian, should you come across it).

So, I quickly discovered that 5 gallons of cab grapes is alot. ALOT.

After 5lbs of the crushed and mostly thawed grapes went in to the quad rescue attempt and 3.5lbs in to 4 gallons of the Cuvee (6 gallons remain without fruit addition, for now), I still have about 4 gallons of fruit left. I guiltily freezer-bagged up the remaining grapes, and hogged even more of the already hops-choked freezer.

The quad has been souring with the bugs for a descent amount of time now and any activity had slowed to a near crawl. I overfilled the carboy, and after a week, the re-activated microbes were pushing CO2, grapes skins and yeast up through the airlock (and continued to do so for ~1.5 months).

The cuvee was still quite young when the grapes were added (pellicle hadn't even fallen yet), so, despite my better judgement, I added the fruit much earlier than is likely optimal (would prefer than multiple brett strains, lacto + pedio would be favored over the sacch, and a later addition achieves that; sacch tends to lose viability faster than the others).

Only (lots) of time will tell, so I'm looking forward to my first tastes of these in about a year.

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